Rhetorical Invention and Religious Inquiry

Rhetorical Invention and Religious Inquiry: New Perspectives

Copyright Date: 2000
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    Rhetorical Invention and Religious Inquiry
    Book Description:

    This exceptional collection of writings offers for the first time a discussion among leading thinkers about the points at which rhetoric and religion illuminate and challenge each other. The contributors to the volume are eminent theorists and critics in rhetoric, theology, and religion, and they address a variety of problems and periods.Together these writings shed light on religion as a human quest and rhetoric as the origin and sustainer of that quest. They show that when pursued with intelligence and sensitivity, rhetorical approaches to religion are capable of revitalizing both language and experience. Rhetorical figures, for example, constitute forms of language that say what cannot be said in any other way, and that move individuals toward religious truths that cannot be known in any other way. When firmly placed within religious, social, and literary history, the convergence of rhetoric and religion brings into focus crucial issues in several fields-including philosophy, psychology, history, and art-and interprets relations among self, language, and world that are central to both past and present cultures.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14752-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Perhaps not since the Renaissance, when the rhetorical theologies and theological rhetorics of such figures as Thomas More, Desiderius Erasmus, and Philipp Melanchthon drew on the equally rhetorical Saint Augustine, the Church Fathers, and the Bible, have students of rhetoric and religion had so much to say to one another. Since the mid-1980s, primarily in journals but also in an increasing number of books, scholars in one field have been drawing out significant lines of inquiry and posing provocative questions to those in the other: Are rhetoric and religion in some sense “essentially” wedded? In general, what are the rhetorical...

  4. Part I Coming to Faith in Rhetoric
    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 9-14)

      Part I explores relations among persuasion, discovery(inventio),and religious faith, investigating how words serve as a place where divine power may intersect with the embodied, temporal lives of human beings. Hence the ambiguity of our title, “Coming to Faith in Rhetoric,” which is intended to suggest that rhetoric involves a faith of its own even as it mediates and may entail religious faith. Indeed, these two faiths may be one and the same. Several of our contributors inquire into how human beings use the rhetorical power of discovery to find warrantable religious beliefs and to improve those beliefs through...

    • 1 The Word as History: Sacred and Profane
      (pp. 15-24)

      The history of what was originally the spoken word cannot be considered merely as a chain of events, a series of phenomena strung out in a neutral field of time, but rather must be taken as a succession of difficult, and often traumatic, reorientations of the human psyche. As the word moves from sound into space (without ever fully departing from sound) and then restructures itself electronically into sound in a new way, the sensorium is reorganized, and man’s relationship to the physical world around him, to his fellow men, to his own thought, and to himself radically changes.


    • 2 Kenneth Burke’s Religious Rhetoric: “God-Terms” and the Ontological Proof
      (pp. 25-46)

      Speculation about Kenneth Burke’s actual religion, in the face of his claims to be an unbeliever, has increased over recent decades.¹ Almost everyone who digs into hisRhetoric of Religionemerges with some sense that it is a work exhibiting genuine religious inquiry. But we all are plagued by Burke’s repeated and aggressive claims that his “religious” interest is only in logology, the study of language, and not in theology: in the word “God” and not in God himself. Thus as I pursue the claim of this essay — that Burke is best thought of as a theologian, or even a...

    • 3 The Philosophical Foundations of Sacred Rhetoric
      (pp. 47-64)

      In a 1990 essay, Stanley Fish suggested that the history of Western thought from Plato through postmodernism could best be understood as a protracted debate between those who seek the truth and the sophists, or as what he terms the “quarrel between philosophy and rhetoric” (“Rhetoric,” 206, 209).¹ According to Fish, rhetoric is thus sophistic discourse, at once partisan and playful, and hence doubly “unconstrained by any sense of responsibility either to the Truth or to the Good”; it appeals to the emotions rather than the intellect and strives for victory rather than understanding. Philosophy, conversely, pursues “what is absolutely...

    • 4 Invention, Emotion, and Conversion in Augustine’s Confessions
      (pp. 65-86)

      Saint Augustine’sConfessionsoffers a telling site in which to investigate the relation between religious belief and rhetorical invention because it rejects both the sophistic version of rhetoric as mere eloquence and the notion that argument should depend on subject matter alone — what James J. Murphy calls the “Platonic rhetorical heresy.”¹ Indeed, theConfessionsanatomizes the partial, distorted rhetorics that impeded Augustine’s own search for God in order to define the rhetoric through which he was converted to his new belief, to a better idea of God, and, ultimately, to a newethosand a new Christian life. The understanding...

    • 5 Rhetorical Theology: Charity Seeking Charity
      (pp. 87-96)

      The religious piety of the humanists secured its perfect complement in rhetorical propriety. Such piety had established a tradition, from the Delphic wisdom of the ancients to the filial fear of the medievals, of the knowledge of self as creature, distinct from and lesser than God.¹ It shunned the irreverent curiosity that sought knowledge beyond the human measure and cultivated a reverent curiosity that promoted such mortal knowledge as might illuminate the divine revelation. It was a studied ignorance. Knowledge was not the end of humanist theology but a means to it. Those disciplines, notably grammar, that could interpret Scripture...

    • 6 Rhetoric, Conscience, and the Claim of Religion
      (pp. 97-130)

      The Erasmian rhetorician who is foolish enough to write about religion, specifically about the individual and belief, speaks (as Kierkegaard said of himself) without authority.¹ But he or she is not necessarily speaking without warrant of any kind. As David Tracy has noted, “Any human being can interpret the religious classics because any human being can ask the fundamental questions that are part of the very attempt to become human at all, those questions that the religious classics address.”² By “fundamental” and “religious” Tracy is referring to certain types of “limit-question,”³ Which bear on the constitution of human life — contingencym,...

  5. Part II Speaking of God
    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 131-135)

      Here our contributors inquire into the rhetorical means that enable “believing in order to understand, and understanding in order to believe,” exploring the ways the divine is named and considering the problems and limits of this naming. Manfred Hoffmann shows how the classical rhetorical offices of invention and disposition informed Erasmus’s rhetorical interpretation of Scripture and his theologizing. The first, invention, involves facility with general and special loci (topoi), “drawn from the divine wisdom in Scripture (and also from nature)” and including such commonplaces as “faith, fasting, bearing evil, helping the sick, tolerating ungodly magistrates, avoiding offense to the weak,...

    • 7 Erasmus: Rhetorical Theologian
      (pp. 136-161)

      For Erasmus the source of theology is Scripture (and also good literature), and the subject matter of theology is the commonplaces (loci) drawn from the divine wisdom in Scripture (and also from nature). What is more, Christ is the center of Scripture and therefore the central hermeneutical principle of interpretation (even of good literature). But the way Erasmus interpreted Scripture and arranged theology was informed by rhetoric. The present task is, therefore, to explore in detail how interpretation, theology, and rhetoric are intertwined. To begin, it might perhaps help to suggest that Erasmus’s formal principle of interpretation was theological (or...

    • 8 Naming God
      (pp. 162-181)

      To confess that one is a listener is from the very beginning to break with the project that is dear to many, and even perhaps all, philosophers: to begin discourse without any presuppositions. (We could speak simply of the “project of beginning,” for to think without presuppositions and to begin to think are one.) Yet it is in terms of one certain presupposition that I stand in the position of a listener to Christian preaching: I assume that this speaking is meaningful, that it is worthy of consideration, and that examining it may accompany and guide the transfer from the...

    • 9 Prophetic Rhetoric and Mystical Rhetoric
      (pp. 182-195)

      Perhaps we have finally reached the end of Perhaps We have finally reached the end of the more familiar discussions of Freud and religion. Surely we do not need another round of theologians showing the “ultimate concern” in the works of Freud. Nor do we really need psychoanalysts announcing, once again, that religions are finally, indeed totally, illusion. Orthodox religionists have long since noted the many obvious religious analogues in Freud’s work: the founding of the orthodox church, the purges of the heretical “Gnostic” Jung and the “Anabaptist” Adler, the debates over the translations of the sacred texts and their...

    • 10 Apophatic Analogy: On the Language of Mystical Unknowing and Being-Toward-Death
      (pp. 196-218)

      The rhetorical modes of “negative” or “apophatic” theology — and of its twin, “mystical” theology — have since the 1970s attracted serious inquiry and extended discussion not only among theologians but also among literary theorists, and philosophers, who tend to share three interconnected concerns: the human subject’s finitude, its situation in language, and its desire. Among post-Heideggerian thinkers in particular, the fascination with textual and discursive traditions deriving from the negative theology of Pseudo-Dionysius (flourished ca. 500) almost always involves a fascination as well with the radically finite, desiring subject of language—to the point that one might suspect contemporary interest in...

  6. Part III The Rhetoric of Excess, Difference, and the Sublime
    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 219-222)

      The contributors in our third section stress the ambiguities that attend any use of hyperbolic, sublime, or negative language and figures — language and figures that can both promote human self-aggrandizement and open us to divinely inspired insight.

      According to Victoria Kahn’s reading of Milton’sParadise Lost,what appears to be sublime could instead be a “satanic, parodic version of the Word.” Linguistic mediation requires an interpretive act to distinguish the true from the false. Kahn argues that Milton’s representation of Satan’s refusal to interpret the divine prohibition against eating enacts the fixity of a mind that refuses to acknowledge limitations...

    • 11 Machiavellian Rhetoric in Paradise lost
      (pp. 223-253)

      Better than any other single figure in Milton, Satan inParadiseLost exemplifies the intersection of rhetoric, theology, the Machiavel, and the republican.¹ Perhaps the most famous nondramatic Machiavel of the Renaissance, Satan is a skillful orator and casuist, who uses rhetorical force and fraud to wheedle and coerce his fellow fallen angels. Not surprisingly, the topics of Machiavellism — the relation ofvirtùor virtue to success, means to ends, persuasion to coercion, force to consent — appear regularly in his speeches. What is surprising, or truly diabolical, however, is the way Satan attributes the stereotypically Machiavellian understanding of these topics...

    • 12 Rhetoric, Ideology, and Idolatry in the Writings of Emmanuel Levinas
      (pp. 254-278)

      As the audience for Emmanuel Levinas’s philosophical and Jewish thought has grown, his claim that ethics rather than ontology is first philosophy has become a more familiar — if resisted — view. This claim is central to Levinas’s thought and indeed, as will be made clear, figures importantly in relation to problems of rhetoric, ideology, and idolatry within discourse. For without the priority of ethics, a critique of these functionings would, for Levinas, be impossible. In order to demonstrate the importance, relations among, and shifting character of the problems of rhetoric, ideology, and idolatry in Levinas’s writings, I shall first briefly trace...

    • 13 Theological Reflections on the Hyperbolic Imagination
      (pp. 279-300)

      The rhetoric of excess conjures up anarchy and deception, but it also shares certain features with religious transcendence and ethical demands and obligations. How do hyperbole, religion, and morality intersect? I shall try to unfold the various layers of rhetorical excess in an attempt to locate the peculiar logic of experiences and claims that suspend the ordinary and expected. The nonconformity of the trope of hyperbole can serve as a model for all discourses that seek the meaningful beyond the grammatical rules that limit the reach of meaning. Yet excess itself must have a context if it is not to...

  7. Part IV Rhetoric and Community
    • [PART IV Introduction]
      (pp. 301-304)

      The close connection between rhetoric and religion has profound consequences for the possibility of unity within social and religious communities. Earlier Marjorie O’Rourke Boyle noted that the Renaissance humanists appreciated the “unitive power” of religion and rhetoric, “the bond of society, the integration of self, and communion with God,” drawing on the classical orators for whom speech was a socializing and civilizing act. In a similar way, Kathy Eden’s thoughtful study links adages, commonly held formulations of belief that unify both discursive practice and social relationships, to secular and Christian conceptions and practices of friendship, love, and community. She understands...

    • 14 Koinonia and the Friendship Between Rhetoric and Religion
      (pp. 305-322)

      A powerful advocate in the first half of the sixteenth century for a renewed friendship between rhetoric and religion was Desiderius Erasmus, who opens his popular collection of ancient proverbs, theAdages,with an old saw widely applied: “Between friends all is common” (Gr.ta ton philon koina;Lat.amicorum communia omnia).¹ Hastening as usual through numerous Greek and Roman references, including in this case Euripides, Aristotle, Theophrastus, Terence, and Cicero, Erasmus lingers momentarily over two authorities, Pythagoras and Plato. Pythagoras, as we shall see, deserves this special attention as the reputed source of the saying. Plato also merits it, not only...

    • 15 Picturing God: The Rhetoric of Religious Images and Caravaggio’s Conversion of Saint Paul
      (pp. 323-355)

      The revitalization of rhetoric as an integral dimension of religious discourse has paralleled the rediscovery of the role of rhetoric in the social and natural sciences.¹ In Christian theology, discussions about rhetoric never quite ceased, owing to the practice of preaching and theories of homiletics. Current concerns in theology, however, focus on rhetoric in a different fashion. Attention to “what is communicated, how it is communicated, what happens when it is communicated, how to communicate it better,” how to understand the variables that create audiences, and how to assess the truth of communication have become crucial issues in the human...

    • 16 The Rhetoric of Philosemitism
      (pp. 356-380)

      Since 1980 both Jewish and non-Jewish scholars have made important contributions to the understanding of antisemitism, dubbed by Robert Wistrich “the longest hatred.”¹ But little attention has been given to antisemitism’s opposite, philosemitism.² That lacuna exists even though it has been increasingly recognized that Jewish history is not a story of unremitting worldwide persecution. Allowing for rough patches, America in particular has been hospitable to Jews. EvenAntisemitism in America,a scholarly history of that unhappy topic, concludes with chapters on the second half of the twentieth century entitled “The Tide Ebbs” and “At Home in America.”³

      This essay tries...

    • 17 Performing Faith: The Peaceable Rhetoric of God’s Church
      (pp. 381-414)

      Christian faith evokes diverse and sometimes competing images and associations. For some, it conjures up a fairly coherent, albeit complexly interrelated array of experiences, dispositions, attitudes, and beliefs. For others, faith names not so much the defining subjective features of religious consciousness as the objective content of Christian religion. Faith is thus construed as a set of doctrines, a peculiar body of teaching and instruction. In short, faith is a divine “deposit” — with the church or the Bible acting as its repository.

      Although these two broadly defined ways of speaking strive to do justice to the divine source as well...

  8. Contributors
    (pp. 415-416)
  9. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 417-418)
  10. Index
    (pp. 419-425)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 426-426)